I never thought this day would come but here we are: Viola Davis is throwing her weight behind a project that could be seriously disastrous and ill-advised. The project in question? A reality television series titled It’s A Man’s World wherein women are transformed into men and exist in the world as men for a week to see what it’s like to be a man in 2019. I don’t know about you but I have never heard of a worse idea for a reality TV show in my life (and I was alive when Rock of Love was on the air).
It’s A Man’s World will be executive produced by JuVee Productions, the production company run by Davis and her husband, Julius Tennon. The docuseries is being called a social experiment and with a title like It’s A Man’s World, you’d expect it to be a boundary-pushing one — something that’s right up Davis’ alley. Additionally, putting Bravo and JuVee Productions feels like a winning combination; it’s easy to assume that whatever these they cook up, it’d be good… right? Wrong. You’re totally wrong.
Per The Hollywood Reporter, It’s A Man’s World is a series “in which four women will morph into men for several days. Each woman, following months of training and with the assistance of Oscar-winning makeup artists and voice and movement coaches, will explore what it’s like to experience the world as a man.”
The structure of the show is similar to other popular, socially-conscious shows like Queer Eye or Undercover Boss insofar as “each episode will follow a different woman — from a professional pool player to a pastor — testing their training by facing their friends and family in the lead-up to the reveal. The series hopes to shed light on if their experiences match their expectations or if they’ll be shocked to discover what it’s really like to live in a man’s world.”
— the royal baby (@pilotviruet) May 30, 2019
While the idea of trying to pick apart male privilege through social experiments is intriguing and TV-worthy, Bravo and JuVee’s approach is maybe the worst possible version of that concert. Frankly, In a Man’s World sounds like a breeding ground for transphobia and toxic depictions of heteronormative gender presentation. Despite a statement from Davis on behalf of JuVee championing the new show (“We at JuVee continue our commitment to illuminate the challenges and obstacles of the voiceless. Our goal is to be disrupters. We are so proud of the originality and boldness of In a Man’s World and it is our hope that it shifts you a little.”), It’s A Man’s World could end up doing more harm than good when it comes to depicting how the world treats men and how we understand gender in a variety of contexts.
To be clear right out of the gate, I’m a cishet white woman and I understand that I speak from a very privileged place; take my opinions with the biggest grain of salt available. It sounds like this show will only acknowledge a gender binary, where it seeks to transform cisgender women into cisgender men through the use of make-up and costuming, completely ignoring the fact that cisgender folks aren’t the only ones who exist in this world. Even worse, the show’s summary implies that this show will treat gender as a literal costume, something that can be taken on and off, performed temporarily.
It’s a Man’s World risks making light or oversimplifying the nuances of gender presentation and how it’s perceived by the world at large. Gender may indeed be a social construct and we may feel pressured to perform as a certain gender, yes, but the show’s understanding of it is negatively impactful and ignorant of the transgender, nonbinary and gender non-conforming communities. Rather than talking to folks from these groups and getting a better understanding of what it’s like to walk in their shoes, it sounds like It’s a Man’s World is going to take the ignorant route and just use superficial trickery to try and get at the heart of tougher topics.
To this, I’m giving a hard pass.